2009 NFL Draft - Sideline to Sideline -- Outside Linebackers Ranked for Denver



Lets check out the rankings:


OLB--Aaron Curry 


Aaron Curry, Wake Forest:  Easily the top linebacker in the class and quite possibly the top overall prospect in the draft.  He makes plays, hits hard and is physical in coverage or playing around the line.  Against the run, he dominates FBs in the lane and releases well from blocks to make the tackle.  Rushing the passer, he runs right through running backs and most TEs and has the speed to beat tackles to the outside.  Against the pass, he drops well but can't be left hanging too long in a zone, since his less-than-stellar hips force him to commit early to a responsibility.  Is tenacious on special teams and forces teams to account for him there.  He could work on being a more punishing tackler, as he too often relies upon his great reach to bring a player down, rather than breaking down and uncoiling with force from the lower body.  If he works on this, there won't be a player in the NFL that he can't bring down.

OLB--Brian Cushing 


Brian Cushing, USC:  A top prospect at outside LB, with legitimate talent to move around a bit without a drop-off in play.  As a LB he has great flexibility, good hips, quick feet and can stay with TEs even over long or deep routes.  Sheds blocks well, but is too reliant on elusiveness to avoid blocks, and needs to take advantage of his superior upper body strength to forcefully engage and discard blockers.  His injury history is a concern, but he has managed to stay healthy for a while now, so maybe that is behind him.  Overall a top LB with the versatility to drop in zone, slide into the middle or line up as a rush end.

OLB--Clay Matthews 


Clay Matthews, USC:  Very inexperienced player who flashes some upside.  Has good burst off the snap as a rush end and shows agility and good hips in coverage.  Not very physical in taking on blocks and must continue to work on disengaging, as he can get corralled pretty easily.  With only 10 starts under his belt, he is more of a guess than a sure thing, and belongs with the rest of the guesses on Day 2, but with his pedigree (father and uncle were both Pro Bowlers) some team's analysts may be hoping to strike late-blooming gold.

OLB--Larry English 


Larry English, Northern Illinois:  MAC attack!!  Decent frame and build, just slightly undersized, and suffered early in his career when asked to put his hand in the dirt as a rush end.  But with the change to a stand-up rusher, English shows great quickness, terrific awareness and instincts, and a suitable amount of zone and pass coverage awareness.  He is energetic making plays near the line, keeping his feet and hands active, maintaining his balance in pursuit and disengaging from blockers.  Despite his quickness, he is too slow to legitimately pressure the outside edges and may not be able to keep up with elite TEs.  

OLB--Connor Barwin 


Connor Barwin, Cincinnati:  Only one year of defense, but a four-year starter, Barwin shows an exceptional level of maturity and intelligence in his game.  Switched from his role as a bruising TE to a bruising SOLB and managed to produce consistently.  Coaches acclaim his work ethic and dedication to the game, and it shows in the number of versatile ways he was lined up and used.  Engages blockers very well and has the strength to discard, as well as the lower body power to drive them back.  Has effective pass-rush moves and uses his hands well to keep blockers out of his frame.  He was also a special-teams standout, blocking three punts.  A super-intelligent prospect who makes the most of every opportunity, Barwin could be a surprise early pick, even though his fit with Denver's likely scheme isn't surprising at all.

OLB--Clint Sintim 


Clint Sintim, Virginia:  Sintim is particularly suited to the outside edges in a 3-4 scheme.  He has strength throughout his body, with good height and is able to hold his own against FBs, creating pileups in the running lane.  Effective against tackles, is able to defeat their handwork and maintain leverage, but is not likely to beat them around the outside.  His ability to drop into coverage is in doubt, and he lacks the straight-line speed to project to be able to cover TEs.  Has stiff hips, so may not do well covering the flats on either side.  Plenty of upside and flashes of a physically powerful player, but Denver may want to look elsewhere on Day 1.

OLB--Marcus Freeman 


Marcus Freeman, Ohio State:  Like his backfield mate Laurinaitis, Freeman is an instinctual player who relies on his athleticism and intelligence to read plays and find the right spot to be in.  Recurring lower body injuries keep hindering him, and he has shown toughness to play through some of them.  Breaks down very well in short space, and tackles with good force.  Needs to get better at disengaging from blockers, and too often relies on his athleticism to go around them.  His injuries, recurring knee ligament damage, are definitely a concern.  As a player that doesn't project ideally for Denver's 3-4, this instinctual player only comes in at 3 stars.

OLB--Tyrone Mckenzie 


Tyrone Mckenzie, South Florida:  Has legitimate first-day talent but didn't play on passing downs, so his value on Day One might not pan out.  Does a good job of playing around the line and can disengage from TEs and OTs.  Has a tremendous work ethic, which shines in his ability to consistently produce despite transferring to three different teams through his career.  A good overall build, good upper-body strength and a secure tackler, his one drawback is that there is little way to get a good read on his ability in pass coverage.  Without that information, 3 stars is as high as one can go.

OLB--Zack Follett 


Zack Follett, Cal:  This powerful, downhill player is an intimidating hitter and engages blocks with strength and explosion.  As a result he is often in a position to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and forced a lot of fumbles.  Not the best at pre-snap reads, however, and doesn't always take the best line to the play.  Refused to run the shuttle at the combine, reinforcing what appears to be a poor backpedal and stiff hips, though at Cal he was generally sent toward the play.  Follett is a player that can step in and make plays, but also be a critical weak link if opponents scheme against him, so he makes a legitimate backup who must work his way into the starting ranks.

OLB--Kaluka Maiava 


Kaluka Maiava, USC:  Maiava is a decent depth-player at this point, with only one year of experience where he benefited tremendously from the surrounding talent on the USC defense.  His Rose Bowl performance, his best of the year, was obviously a case of capitalizing when the rest of his teammates were accounted for, but he did flash some upside in the game, including some powerful tackling and the speed to follow plays laterally.  But most of the year he looked like he was being reactive, instead of proactive.  He would often get flushed out of plays, or allow himself to be redirected by OTs.  He also has difficulty disengaging from blockers, which significantly reduces his effectiveness tackling around the line of scrimmage.  Could be a great developmental pickup and seems coachable, but he isn't head and shoulders above any prospect this early in the draft.

OLB--Jason Williams 


Jason Williams, Western Illinois:  Adequate SOLB candidate who shows the hips and quick feet needed to cover TEs and RBs in the flat.  Was a defensive captain and produced consistently starting in his sophomore year.  While he needs to get better at disengaging from blockers, he shows the strength to be able to do that eventually.  When attacking the ball he meets the blocker fiercely, and flashes the ability to get the separation needed to make the play around the line of scrimmage.  Would be an excellent special-teams coverage player.

OLB--Lee Robinson


Lee Robinson, Alcorn State:  This guy reminds me eerily of Wesley Woodyard, and that is a damn good thing.  He is a good tackler, reads plays well and is instinctual in following the play to the ball.  Like WW, one of his strongest assets is keeping blockers away from his legs and keeping hands out of his frame, which leaves him free to make the tackle at the line of scrimmage.  His open-field tackling could use work however, as he doesn't consistently break down but he shows a ton of hustle and is quick to congratulate teammates, making him a respected member of the team.  His coverage ability is adequate, though he can't hang very long on deeper routes.  Has all the markings of a late-round, high-impact player.

OLB--Corey Smith 


Corey Smith, Cincinnati:  Smith is an overall complete package at LB, but his skills project better to a MLB in a 4-3, which is no surprise, since that was his position every year except 2008, when he moved due to team need.  He has missed time due to, and played through, various injuries.  A tough player with good instincts in coverage but will bite too early on underneath routes through his zone.  Smith is a solid late-round pick, but less-than-ideal scheme fit should cause Denver to pass.

OLB--DeAndre Levy 


DeAndre Levy, Wisconsin:  Smart defensive leader, Levy makes up for his lack of speed and playmaking with a steady, physical presence on the outside.  A sure tackler inside and in the open field, he doesn't show the hips or feet needed to be a consistent option in coverage.  And despite his downhill effectiveness, he too often doesn't show the explosiveness needed to properly engage and shed blocks.  He needs to work on his handwork, explosiveness and ability to rush as a 9-technique, but he could be a solid special-teams addition for his ability to break down and wrap up, and his willingness to play within his scheme.

OLB--Mortty Ivy 


Mortty Ivy, West Virginia:  Another solid tackler who disengages well to make tackles at the line of scrimmage, but Ivy lacks the ability to consistently break down in the open field.  This looks like stiff hips and a general lack of athleticism, which shows up in his inconsistent coverage and poor drop-back skills.  Has a ton of hustle and knows how to close out downhill plays, which could make him an excellent special-teams contributor.  Doesn't have the best hands or the best hand-technique, and will want to prioritize this area of his game along with his flexibility.

OLB--Robert Francois 


Robert Francois, Boston College:  Good size with rare late-round height (6'3") and can put on more weight.  He is very physical, engages fiercely and shows the ability to discard blocks, while also being able to break down in a very small area for solid, powerful tackles.  Was the special-teams player of the year for BC.  His downside is that he is relatively inexperienced, with only 14 starts since 2006, having been relegated to spot duty behind Brian Toal.  What he shows are consistent flashes of rare athleticism for his size, and if he is a player who is getting better with experience, he would be a steal as a late pick or UFA.  But he was held out from starting for a reason, and unless that reason is known, it is doubtful that any team would be willing to take a chance on him early.


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